Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is all about correcting the Pharisees’ FALSE TEACHINGS. The second part, is all about correcting the Pharisees’ FALSE RELIGION. That’s the part of the Sermon on the Mount that we’re in right now. Jesus is addressing the HYPOCRITICAL WORSHIP of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were unbelievers. But they weren’t the type of unbelievers who avoided church. They were the type of unbelievers who go to church regularly so that others will see them there. They did all the outward things that God told the Israelites to do in connect with worship. They gave to the poor. They prayed. They fasted. They came to the Temple on all the special worship days. But they didn’t do all these things because they were interested in a RELATIONSHIP with their Creator. They did these things only to earn the REPUTATION as a follower of God. That pretty much sums up the Pharisees’ religion: A reputation, not a relationship.
Last Sunday we heard Jesus talk about how the Pharisees gave to the poor. They gave alright, but in very public ways so that they’d get attention. In doing this they rendered their charitable giving spiritually worthless in God’s sight. He was not pleased at all by their faithless giving.
This week Jesus moves on from charitable giving to another aspect of the Pharisees’ false religion – PRAYER.
Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV)
5“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Have you ever been in a public place and heard a parent disciplining their child? But as you listen, you hear that mom or dad’s words are really being spoken to the audience around the naughty child? I like to call this “supermarket discipline”. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.
Spoken in a voice that has no edge of seriousness in it at all:
“Nicole, you shouldn’t doo-ing that.”
“You get back here right now.”
“Do we have to go home right now?”
“If you don’t listen to me, there aren’t going to be any treats later.”
Everyone knows that mom or dad isn’t going to actually do a thing unless little Nikki smashes a king size jar of pickles on the floor. Everyone knows that mom or dad is actually talking to the strangers who are thinking, “Yikes, control your kid.”
This is really hypocritical parenting. Fake parenting. Pretend parenting.
The Pharisees did the same thing when it came to prayer. Their prayers were not really spoken to God, they were spoken for the ears of the people who heard them praying. They were fake prayers. Pretender prayers.
Jesus told a parable to illustrate this to the people. It’s found in Luke 18, verse 9.
“9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14 NIV).
The hypocrisy of the Pharisees was evident in their “look-at-me” prayers. Jesus says, Don’t be like them. They will be humbled in the end. Instead, when you pray – be real.
Look at Matthew 6, verse 6 again.
“6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6 NIV).
If our prayers are really prayers, if they’re US TALKING TO GOD, than no one else besides Him needs to hear us. Why not go to a venue were nobody else can possible hear our words our see our bowed heads. A private place can help us to be GENUINE with God. To really speak what is on our mind. To talk to God with no pretense. To be real with Him in a way that we might find hard to do around other people.
This is one reason why evening and morning prayers are a really good idea. If we pray when we wake up and before we fall asleep that’s one place were we are IN OUR OWN ROOM, and we can pray to God openly. Genuinely.
It’s kinda like what people do when they get a cell phone call from someone they’ve got to talk to about a serious thing. They don’t stick around, they excuse themselves and take the call out of the restaurant. Where their conversation is not out in the open for all to listen in on.
So, Jesus says, 1) don’t pray like a hypocrite, and 2) be genuine. And then He gives His followers one more direction on how not to pray. Matthew 6, verse 7.
“7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8 NIV).
The pagans thought of their gods like “big people”. Their gods had the same bad character traits that people had, they just also had a lot of power. Pagans figured that if they threw up enough prayers at their gods, they could push that god into giving them what they wanted.
Now, Jesus does teach us to pray repeatedly. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father three times about the same thing. Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says to KNOCK and the door will be opened. But Jesus never teaches us to use prayers like currency. You know, like if I pray enough times about this God will eventually listen and give in to what I’m asking. Or, if I ask enough other Christians to pray for me then I’ll have a better chance of getting the answer I want.
That’s a pagan thought. It’s really treating God like a human that we can manipulate if we use the right methods. Jesus says, don’t do that, your Father already knows what you need before you ask him – He’s not like you, He’s God.
That leads us to a question: If God already knows what we need and what we’ll ask for, why does He want us to pray?
I’m sure there are more reasons than I can think of. But I thought of three reasons why God might want us to pray to Him, even though He knows what we need.
First, by praying we remind ourselves that we can do NOTHING without God, but with Him we can do EVERTHING. We can do everything through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Prayer keeps our hearts focused on God as the One who we are dependent on for EVERYTHING.
Secondly, we were made to interact with God in a Father to child relationship. Think about it for moment. God made Adam and Eve to be His children. In a loving relationship with Him. God wanted people to have this with, so He made the human race. But Adam’s sin destroyed this relationship. And as you know, only through Christ Jesus does this relationship get restored. Because Jesus suffered and died for our sins, we are forgiven and brought back into the family of God. That’s why Jesus teaches HIS FOLLOWERS to call God, OUR FATHER.
The point is, every time redeemed sinners like you and I talk to our heavenly Father, that restored relationship is being used! Our Father loves to hear us talk to Him, just like parents love to hear their children talk to them. Every time we say, “Father”, to Him, we identify HIM as our God.
Right now, my daughter Carmen has been busting out a lot of new words. She’s to that stage where she can mimic anything you ask her to, and she’s making more and more word connections to things.
Recently she started calling me Dad AND Papa. I can’t really explain how that makes me feel, but I’d guess that God feels something the same when He hears His followers talk to Him in the quiet of their private moments.
Thirdly, the Bible teaches us that peace if obtained through prayer. Turn to Philippians 4, verse 6.
“6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV).
Here Paul says, Don’t worry, pray, and God will replace your burden with His peace, the peace which comes from Jesus gives. That’s the peace which reminds us that our failings are forgiven. That’s the peace which reminds us that Jesus has promised to never leave us, but to guide us by His Word and His Spirit. That’s the peace which we have access to through prayer.
So, Jesus has described how to pray and how not to pray. Don’t be a hypocrite. Be genuine. Don’t treat God like a human being. Jesus then gives an example prayer to His followers. Turn to Matthew 6, verse 9. You might be familiar with this one, we call it the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus says…
“9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
This prayer is very short, very concise, but packed with meaning. Here’s a little exercise you can try at home. Open you Bible up to the Lord’s Prayer and try to make it shorter without losing meaning.
It’s just about impossible to do. The Lord’s Prayer is SHORT, BUT VERY SWEET. It’s so rich with meaning that in His catechism, Martin Luther devotes at least a page to each line! In fact, Luther says,
“Since our Lord is the author of this prayer, it is without a doubt the most sublime, the loftiest, and the most excellent. If he, the good and faithful Teacher, had known a better one, he would surely have taught us that too.
…It would be better for you to pray one Lord’s Prayer with a devout heart and with thought given to the words… than… all other prayers” (Luther, M. (1999, c1969). Vol. 42: Luther's works, vol. 42 : Devotional Writings I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (42:21-22). Philadelphia: Fortress Press).
With this prayer, Jesus gives us a prayer to model our own after. Christian prayer should be short and sweet with meaning, for pagan prayers are long and full of emptiness.
We don’t have time right now to go through each line of Jesus’ prayer. We could easily spend a sermon on each. But note this about the Lord’s Prayer, only one line is dedicated to a non-Spiritual request. The line about God giving us the food we need for each day. The rest are all about Spiritual things. We’re drawn to pray about physical things, when the Spiritual are so much more weighty.
Note also that Jesus includes in His model prayer, that we ask for forgiveness for our sins. This is a safeguard against ever forgetting that apart from God we would be damned. Only because of Jesus can we pray to God, for only the righteous can speak with the Father safely. And we have been declared righteous by Christ’s death and resurrection. As surely as He lives, we are redeemed. Connected to Jesus by faith, His righteousness is now ours. That’s why Jesus throws those last two verses in. He says,
“14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV).
The forgiven, forgive. We cannot claim to be God’s people if we refuse to forgive. We cannot ask FOR forgiveness day after day if we don’t extend that same forgiveness of Christ to those around us. It is the hypocrite who tries to claim forgiveness without giving it. Jesus says, you are no pretenders, so forgive just as God forgave you.
Jesus teaches us that our prayer should be GENUINE, TO THE POINT, SPIRITUAL, and spoken from a forgiving heart of a forgiven child of God. I’d like to pray the Lord’s Prayer together now. But in a different way than we usually do. I’ll speak with my mouth, you speak ONLY with your hearts as I do. Say this prayer inside yourself with focus on its meaning, and with thought given to each word.
Though far above us, Your are Our Father,
May who You are be honored by all,
May your control permeate our hearts,
May what you desire be done by us as perfectly as the angels do.
Give us the portion of food we need for today.
Forgive our sins, in the same way that we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t carry us into temptation, but away from Satan. Amen.
The Peace of God which surpasses all our understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.